Calls are being made for the Federal Government to enforce a mandate which would see residential aged care facilities’ menus and meals assessed annually by a dietitian on-site, following the release of a Government report on food in aged care.
The second Food and Nutrition Report 2021-22 in residential aged care was released yesterday and found almost 25% of facilities are still spending less than $10 per resident a day on food.
Dietitians Australia’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Robert Hunt, said that given the rising cost of food and produce, these figures are concerning as providers are unlikely to create nutritious meals for under $10.
He believes that if providers were required to have a dietitian visit a facility and assess their menus and meals once a year, it would make a huge difference in food and nutrition quality.
“Expenditure on food doesn’t tell the full story, but with the latest significant unplanned weight loss figures at 13,490 residents, it’s clear not every home is putting adequate funds towards nutritious food,” he said.
“It is true; you cannot put an exact dollar figure down to guarantee a meal will meet the unique nutrition needs of older people.
“The only way you can do that – is by ensuring menus and meals have the input of an accredited practising dietitian.”
He vouched for the role dietitians can play in ensuring food produced in these facilities are nutritionally sound and balanced for residents.
Mr Hunt was also glad to see in the report that some providers are trying to fix that statistic by using kitchen gardens and food waste initiatives.
He said that “there are providers out there who voluntarily choose to engage accredited practising dietitians as part of their food service delivery” and he congratulated them on this choice.
Tom Symondson, Aged & Community Care Providers Association’s (ACCPA) Chief Executive Officer (CEO), agreed and said the report showed a growing number of aged care providers are trying to improve the food being delivered in aged care.
“[This report] shows that the majority of residential aged care providers are doing the right thing by providing nutritious food for their residents,” said Mr Symondson.
“Innovations noted by the report include a greater use of kitchen gardens in aged care homes and a greater use of digital technology to support meal choice and on measuring mealtime experiences.
“Food and nutrition is a complex area for older people in residential care who will have different needs based on their health, personal preferences, and cultural background.”
To assist with the complex nutritional needs of residents, Mr Hunt said dietitians can help ensure the quality of food being served to older Australians, provide support and education to a facility’s cooks and chefs to give them the confidence, and guidance to serve adequate meals.
Mr Hunt explained that Dietitians Australia want to see the Government mandate an annual nutrition assessment for aged care providers, so they can get expert assistance when creating menus and meals.
“Cooks, chefs and food service staff deserve all the support they can get – and a minimum of one onsite visit per year from an accredited practising dietitian will give them the evidence-based advice they need to ensure their menus and meals meet the nutritional requirements of older Australians,” he explained.
“It may surprise Australians – there is currently nothing in place to guarantee menus developed and meals cooked and served to aged care residents will be assessed by an accredited practising dietitian.
“This is the bare minimum next critical step this Government must take if they genuinely want to turn the tides on malnutrition in Australian aged care for good.”
New Aged Care Quality Standards hope to see the quality of food and nutrition lifted overall in these facilities but the Federal Government are still in the process of reviewing these new Standards.
The Government recently finished seeking feedback from experts in the sector on the Quality Standards on November 25 and hope to implement more productive changes to these Standards.